Katherine Payne, Global Digital Lead, celebrates Scarlett Curtis as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.
Content warning: Brief discussion of suicide
Before Equality Now’s 2019 Make Equality Reality Gala, like many people in the UK, I knew Scarlett Curtis through her activism with the Pink Protest.
In 2017, Scarlett and the Pink Protest successfully campaigned to have female genital mutilation (FGM) included in the Children’s Act, legislation that safeguards and promotes the well-being of children in the UK. I was also familiar with Scarlett’s work fighting period poverty alongside Amika George, founder of the #FreePeriods campaign, which Scarlett and The Pink Protest helped to support.
I had also come to know Scarlett through her book, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Issues. When I heard that Scarlett would be our 2019 honoree, I was so pleased that Equality Now, Gucci, and CHIME FOR CHANGE would be honoring a young woman who had worked to use her platform to amplify the voices and facilitate the work of others.
As I watched Scarlett’s speech, I was struck by her vulnerability. “I know this isn’t at all feminist or empowered to say, but I have a huge amount of imposter syndrome standing here” I recall her telling the audience, “Because I really feel like my role in the feminist movement is lifting up other activists and creating paths for other young women to discover their own feminism and their own power to make change.”
But I thought that was very feminist. In fact, I thought it was perhaps the most feminist thing a self-described middle-class white woman could say.
As she spoke, Scarlett went on to tell a story of hers I hadn’t heard about how feminism —and becoming part of the feminist movement—had saved her life. Following a suicide attempt, Scarlett had seen an Instagram post that spurred her to attend a feminist resistance meeting in Harlem. From that point, she felt a renewed sense of purpose in her life and its possibilities.
“What I discovered in that room and in the many, many rooms I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into since was something I wanted to get better for,” Scarlett told the
audience. “I had found this thing called feminism and, while I was no longer that interested in staying alive anymore, I became interested in sticking around for the sole purpose of joining this movement.”
When we talk about being part of a movement, we so often talk about what that kind of collective action can do for a group. But very often, as Scarlett reminded us that evening, being part of a wider movement can also be a transformative experience for an individual.
The power of collective belonging was also at the forefront of Scarlett’s 2019 essay collection, It’s Not OK To Feel Blue & Other Lies, a collection of essays featuring work by a range of inspirational people, from Mona Chalabi to Sinéad Burke, about their challenges with mental health. Like Scarlett and many others around the world, I have faced my own mental health struggles. I admire how open and honest Scarlett has been about her experiences, making space for others to do the same.
Back at Equality Now’s Gala in 2019, I recall Scarlett saying, “People like to call my generation selfish, which I think is in some ways fair and in some ways very unfair. But I do feel like I am incredibly selfish. I am selfishly a feminist because it gave me a reason to stay alive, and it’s brought me more joy and friendship than anything else in this world.”
Scarlett’s journey is a reminder of feminism’s transformative power, not just for the whole but also for each of us as individuals. And it’s a lesson that we can all benefit from every day.